Rights for domestic Workers
The California Legislature is considering a bill to extend basic labor rights to domestic workers: the nannies, cooks, baby sitters and other caregivers whose labor allows households to function smoothly, thus contributing to the larger economy. Domestic workers toil long hours for low pay, but have long been excluded from many of the fundamental protections most other workers enjoy under federal labor law.
The California bill, A.B. 889, which passed the Assembly and is being debated this month in the State Senate, seeks to close that gap. It would entitle workers to overtime pay, ease eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation and give them time for meals and rest breaks.
It would also add some protections specific to domestic labor, like giving live-in employees the right to eight hours of sleep and domestic workers the right to use employers’ kitchens to cook their own food.
The bill is inspired by legislation passed in 2010 in New York State after a campaign by domestic workers to shed light on the abuses that are rampant in their unregulated industry. These workers, most of them immigrant women, toil behind closed doors in private homes, often suffering in silence. The nature of their jobs makes it hard for them to organize and be noticed, much less win the protections they deserve.
Domestic workers are among a wider category of low-wage workers who are denied many basic protections under federal wage-and-hour laws. Efforts to protect other excluded employees, like home care workers and farm workers, have failed in the courts and stalled in Congress.
We hope California and other states will be willing to do what the federal government has not — which is to set basic standards to guarantee domestic workers decent working conditions and pay.